Rated PG. Running time: 2 hours 30 min.
Our content rating (0-10): Violence 3; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 3.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things
Hebrews 11: 1
Ellie Arroway and Palmer Joss are both concerned with truth and ultimate meaning, but they take different paths in their search. Ellie is the scientist, a fervent believer in rationality; Palmer a spiritual leader following the way of faith. When Ellie was a little girl her curiosity was fostered by her father, who bought her a telescope. She was hooked forever on the stars and on the possibility that there was intelligent life out there. When he died during her ninth year she could not accept the well-meaning consolation of the pastor: “We just have to accept some things.” Even at that young age hers is the response of the person of reason, “We should have kept some of his medicine downstairs.”
Jody Foster plays the scientist, following her yearning down an unpopular road shunned by lesser scientists willing to go where the publicity – and the grants are. She has to beg and borrow to gain time on the radio telescopes so essential to her research. She has a brief romantic encounter with Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey), but they clash over beliefs. He tells her, “I’m not against technology. I’m just against those who deify it at the expense of their fellow man.” It will be a long time before she understands this, and comes to see how much “faith” is involved in her own world-view. She and Palmer talk about God, Ellie declaring, “I need proof.”
Palmer asks, “Did you love your father? .. Prove it.” Palmer’s beliefs are never explicated; he comes across as a somewhat facile-tongued – New Age guru with friends in high places (he is supposed to be a Presidential adviser in spiritual matters).
And he apparently can be hoodwinked: as a member of the international panel to choose the person who will travel in an interstellar device, he votes against Ellie because she honestly states her disbelief in God. Instead, he chooses the National Science Adviser, Ellie’s former mentor who has been trying to take credit for her work and is willing to tell people what they want to hear.
Good scenes for teaching/preaching:
-The opening shots in which the camera recedes from the earth and we hear current television sound tracks. As we move past Mars, the Asteroid Belt, and beyond Jupiter, the soundtracks are from older programs, and when we see the Solar System receding ever farther, we hear radio broadcasts (including F.D.R.). We emerge from our galaxy, and there is silence, and we continue our cosmic journey beyond a cluster of galaxies. Right from the beginning we know that we are embarking on a cinematic voyage of extraordinary beauty and challenge!
-Ellie volunteers to go on the alien-designed space vessel. The worried Palmer asks her, “Why?” Her reply is that of all people of courage, scientists and saints, it is to meet the challenge of the
unknown and toanswer the question of why are we here? “If I can only find a little of the answer, it’s worth human life. It’s worth it.”
-Ellie’s sense of awe during her journey. Any difference here from that of Psalm 8?
The hearing when Ellie, returned from her journey, is faced with the skepticism of her inquisitors because she has no “hard evidence” to support her account. At bottom, are science and religion
so far apart?
– The beautiful ending in which we see Ellie sitting quietly meditating underneath the panoply of stars. The film’s conclusion reminds me of the last scene of Inherit the Wind in which the lawyer who is the Clarence Darrow stand-in picks up his copy of the Bible and Darwin’s ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES, looks at each, seeming to weigh them in each hand, brings them together, and places both, side by side, into his brief case.
Director Robert Zemickis has left in the dust the purveyors of summer thrillers with their violence with his newest film. Contact is a thriller, but the thrills are of the mind and of the spirit, not the crude pyrotechnics and car/plane/boat chases of the summer competition. If you see but one film this season, CONTACT should be it!